Q. I've read a little bit about the Older Americans Act. What exactly is it? Do we still need it? How could I support it?
A. Enacted by Congress in 1965, the Older Americans Act (OAA) provides federal funds for state and local social service programs that enable frail and disabled older individuals (60 and above) to remain independent in their communities. Community based services include:
- Congregate and home-delivered meals
- Adult day-care services
- Information and assistance
- Advocacy assistance
- Telephone reassurance
- Homemaker, legal and employment services
A typical participant of these services is 75, living on a fixed and very limited income who needs assistance with preparing meals or getting transportation to the doctor. Increasingly individuals who can afford to pay for some of these services are being asked to contribute in proportion to their income. Services are usually provided or coordinated by the Area Agency on Aging.
Although the older population has increased, 85-plus becoming the fastest growing segment of the United States, funding for OAA programs has declined in real terms by more than 40 percent since 1980. Despite some increases in state and local funding and contributions from participants, long waiting lists for these services are common throughout the country.
The OAA was scheduled to be reauthorized in 1996. Every year since then, Congress has considered the act but been unable to agree on how it should be updated. Funding has been allocated for keeping the present system afloat.
On March 31, 1999, the Clinton Administration transmitted to Congress a proposal for reauthorization of the OAA. Now the 106th Congress is again examining and debating aspects of the proposal. For information on the current legislation, you can contact the Administration on Aging on the Internet at http://pr.aoa.dhhs.gov/oaa/status/default.htm.
Some people ask, " Why should the federal government take care of the older people? Can't families provide for their aging members?" Most families do, and that's exactly what these programs are intended to support. They help older persons stay in their homes (or in the homes of family members where both spouses are holding down full-time jobs). Such multi-generational families often need a little help in juggling the responsibilities. That is what their communities provide through OAA programs.
If you want to support the reauthorization of the OAA, call and tell your senators and representative that the Older Americans Act is essential for the families in your community and must be fully funded and reauthorized.
If you have a question or comment for "Sense for Seniors," write to Betty Gibb, Kansas Senior Press Service, 11875 S. Sunset, Suite 200, Olathe 66061.